New Plum Trees Initial Pruning

rob_343(6B/7A)March 6, 2014

I have been reading this forum for a while. This is my first post. I planted some asian pears and blueberries last year. This year, I ordered the following: Laroda Plum, Burgundy Plum, Satsuma Plum, Tomcot Apricot, and Spring Satin Plum.

They will be planted 6 feet apart. I am in outside Washington, DC. Zone 6B or 7A.

I am leaning toward modified central leader due to the fact that my spacing is somewhat close. I keep finding conflicting information on whether or not this is OK compared to open vase. Any recommendations?

Also, the trees that I received are about 3/4 - 1" caliper, about 4 feet tall, and have feathered branches in the top foot or so. I would like to have my first scaffold about 2 feet up from the soil line. It looks like the nursery may have been pruning these off. My first inclination is to head the trunk back to 3' or so in the next couple of weeks. However, some research says I should prune in late summer-- I am guessing this type of cut would remove all leaves if done then. How should I go about this?

Thank you very much for any help.

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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Don't remove all leaves in summer, fall, or any other time. You can summer prune any time but that would be 10-20% removal max.

Trees that size of plum and apricot can probably be headed back removing all branches. But there is some risk that you won't get branches where you want or maybe none at all. Is it really worth the risk to drop branches by one foot?

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 3:59PM
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I would head back the trunk like you want, but I'd do it now. Don't wait for them to break dormancy. Six feet is REALLY close separation for plums. Spring Satin by itself will grow to be 8 ft. wide. I'd rethink the spacing.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 6:29PM
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alan haigh

Depends on the shape you want. If you want a trunk you can baffle to stop coons and/or squirrels from climbing, it is best to train as a central leader and keep branches less than a third the diameter of the trunk at point of the branches attachment and remove over sized branches. You can take out the center in a year or two.

If you want a low open center than you should cut to about 24" or so and stub any branches below that to a couple inches.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 6:56PM
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Thank you for the answers.

From what I have read, I am supposed to prune "something" now to balance the roots and the top, right? That's where I am getting stumped. If I prune from 0 to 12", I feel like I will lose the central leader, as almost every bud has a 45 degree branch coming out. Lower than this runs the risk fruitnut mentioned. The top of the trunks were definitely pruned at some point before I got them.

Will a 45 degree turn vertical if it is the highest branch? If I head back just above a branch, then remove that branch will that bud throw another leader? Or, are they one-and-done?

Rayrose, my spacing is pretty much set-- small yard. It's either in the ground or the compost pile for these trees.

Sorry for all the novice questions. Dealing with a whip is so much easier. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 8:03PM
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The easiest way to tell is to double check the size of the root ball. Make sure the top of the tree isnt much bigger then the root ball. The top of the tree should be relatively the same size as the roots.

Basically the tree cant support much top growth if the root mass isnt very big. Even then the first year dont be surprised if there is little or slow growth. If I am not mistaken pruning during planting should help with this. Ive read some people loosing some growth when planting a large tree with a small root mass.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 9:51PM
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alan haigh

Rayrose is right about spacing if trees are on Myro. unless you are experimenting with Dave Wilson's type spacing and summer pruning to reduce vigor.

That said, maintaining only branches of a smaller ratio is particularly important where space is limited. Smaller ratio (in proportion to the diameter of the trunk) scaffolds produce fruit earlier in less space.

For J. plums I wouldn't worry about balancing roots- it is a dated concept in any case as the wood above stores energy to help generate new root which offsets the equation. The only pruning that actually generates overall additional growth is the removal of spurs on certain species. Pruning decisions should generally be only about training shape.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2014 at 5:42AM
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I sympathize with you on your spacing, but it's going to mean constant vigilance and pruing, in order to keep the growth in check. I presume that you bought the trees
bare root and planted them recently. I just planted 3 pluots, a plumcot(spring sating, and a plum and I headed them all back to 30 inches(which is my normal practice). This allows me to decide where I want the scaffolds to grow and how many. Given your space limitations, you're going to have to limit the size of these trees, and there's no better time or way to start, than when you first plant them. The best way to do this is to head them back and treat them like whips. But you're going to have to constantly prune these trees, in order to meet your spacing requirements. With a smart plan and due diligence, you can accomplish anything you want. You're going to have to sacrifice fruit production, and I would not to have to cut your grass. LOL

    Bookmark   March 7, 2014 at 8:52AM
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Thank you all for your help.

All except the Spring Satin are on Citation. The Spring Satin is from Isons, where there is no mention of rootstock and a couple of emails to them went unanswered. Their site says it gets 10-12 feet tall. All were bare root, planted in the last several weeks-- I got lucky with a couple of breaks in the cold.

I have read a bunch on Dave Wilson's techniques, as well as the critiques here. I am not really going for that per se. Rather, I was planning to summer prune to keep them in check. I think mod central leader is my best bet to keep the footprint as small as possible.

Production is not a huge issue, as I do not have any real storage options yet. Although my 7-year old daughter can really do a number on plums. It is wise to not stand between her and a bowl of them. Same for my son and a bowl of blueberries. If they can eat all the fruit from these trees/bushes, I may have to get a second job...

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2014 at 10:11AM
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alan haigh

I bet you'll be fine on Citation- it really does reduce the vigor and encourage fruiting on a smaller tree.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2014 at 4:44PM
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